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Early Puberty May Bring Increased Risk of Mental Health Issues

— March 27, 2024

Research shows early puberty can bring on psychological distress in young girls.

Girls are experiencing early puberty more frequently than before, and for many, this shift brings significant mental health challenges. Take Zaria, for instance. At just 9 years old, she received the startling news from a nurse practitioner that she was already showing signs of puberty and could expect her period within a year. Zaria’s mother, Chanell, sought dietary adjustments to manage her daughter’s weight gain, hoping to delay the onset of puberty and preserve her childhood a little longer.

However, puberty arrived for the girl nonetheless. By the time she reached fourth grade, she was developing breasts and experiencing weight fluctuations. The prospect of carrying pads to school added to her worries about being judged by classmates. Chanell found herself dealing with emotional changes with her daughter, who, once clear and communicative, now exhibited a rebellious streak, often expressing confusion about her emotions.

Zaria’s story reflects a global trend: girls worldwide are entering puberty earlier than in previous decades. Research spanning 20 countries over six continents reveals a consistent downward trend in the age of initial breast development, with the median age dropping by about three months every decade since 1977. Some studies suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated this trend.

Early puberty poses unique mental health risks for young girls, including hormonal fluctuations, bullying, unwanted sexual attention, and feelings of isolation. Lacking adequate sex education and support exacerbates their sense of alienation from their changing bodies and peers.

Early Puberty May Bring Increased Risk of Mental Health Issues
Photo by meijii from Pexels

The precise cause of this trend remains unclear, although various factors are implicated. Improved hygiene and nutrition, childhood obesity rates, higher stress levels, and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals are all potential contributors. Moreover, girls who experience precocious puberty face long-term health risks, including an increased likelihood of breast cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Boys who undergo early puberty also face mental health challenges, debunking the notion that early maturation universally benefits boys. However, research on this topic remains scarce compared to studies on girls.

For transgender children, early puberty without access to puberty blockers can exacerbate gender dysphoria, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Yet, limited research exists on the impact of precocious puberty in transgender youth.

Despite its increasing prevalence, precocious puberty remains poorly understood by many primary care doctors, leaving families to seek guidance from a limited number of pediatric endocrinologists. Moreover, inadequate sex education in schools often leaves children unprepared for early puberty-related changes.

Puberty blockers offer a potential solution for children at risk of health complications or those uncomfortable with early development. However, access to these treatments remains limited, exacerbated by state laws banning gender-affirming care.

Open conversations and support from families and schools are crucial for helping children suffering from early puberty. Chanell’s proactive approach with Zaria, providing reassurance and practical support, exemplifies the importance of frank discussions and encouragement during this transitional phase.

It is clear that early puberty presents several challenges for girls and boys alike, highlighting the need for greater awareness, support, and access to resources to ensure the well-being of children experiencing precocious development.


Girls are starting puberty earlier than ever. For some, that comes with major mental health risks

The effects of obesity on the menstrual cycle

Worldwide Secular Trends in Age at Pubertal Onset Assessed by Breast Development Among Girls

Early and precocious puberty during the COVID-19 pandemic

How many children are affected by/at risk of precocious puberty?

Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Severe Obesity Among Children and Adolescents Aged 2–19 Years: United States, 1963–1965 Through 2017–2018

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